The Olympics

AB InBev Scores Marketing Win With Skol Olympics Collectible Cups

Ambev's Rio 2016 Sponsorship Deal Paying Off With 'Souvenir' Sales

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Skol featured the coveted cups on its Instagram account.
Skol featured the coveted cups on its Instagram account. Credit: Skol via Instagram
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Ambev SA's pricey sponsorship deal for this year's Olympics is playing out well in the stands.

The Brazilian beer company has been peddling its Skol brand in souvenir cups, each one emblazoned with a different Olympic sport. The strategy has led spectators to guzzle hundreds of reais in beer to get the whole collection of 42. Not only is Ambev selling a lot of beer, it's getting the Skol name into kitchen cupboards the world over.

The popularity of the cups makes sense at an event where T-shirts from the Rio 2016 megastore cost 95 reais ($30), making a 13-real beer-and-cup offering a relative bargain. At the Maracana soccer stadium where Brazil's women's team was facing off against Sweden on Tuesday in a semifinal, Skol's beer stations were bustling with activity.

"Of course I'm buying more beer because of the cups," said Claudia Maria Dias de Sousa, 58, a physical education teacher from Belem, Brazil. "They're souvenirs for my friends from the Rio Olympics."

Ms. Dias de Sousa said she has collected eight of the hard-plastic cups so far. She was overheard requesting a basketball cup. Soccer had sold out. At a basketball game Saturday night a spectator tossed one of the yellow and green cups into a trash bin at half time. Within a minute someone had retrieved it, adding it to a stack of more than 10 he was carrying around.

"People will go for the perception of getting something that's special and spend the extra money," said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing expert who teaches at Columbia University in New York. "It's a great branding opportunity for Skol."

Ambev, which is controlled by Anheuser-Busch InBev, needed to deliver strong results at this year's Olympics. With Brazil mired in recession, the company sold less beer by volume in the second quarter than it has in seven years, and also lost market share to less expensive rivals. Chief Executive Officer Bernardo Pinto Paiva told investors on a conference call that 2017 could be better, as consumer confidence recovers and inflation slows.

The idea was to pay homage to the different Olympic sports, and then the cups turned into a hot collector's item, Bruna Buas, Ambev's Olympics manager, said through a press officer.

In response to the cup craze and to promote responsible drinking, Ambev said it has set aside space at venues where fans can exchange cups as if they were Pokemon cards.

Skol's strategy isn't totally unique. Budweiser, which Ambev sells as a premium brand in Brazil, had a collectible cup at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Coca-Cola did something similar. But the gimmick of building a collection of Skol cups sets it apart. It also means beer salespeople often must negotiate the details of the cup before serving a beer.

-- Bloomberg News